December 8, 2020
By Mike Burns
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Rock Island Auction Company set another world record in 2020 with its December Premier Firearms Auction. Realizing over $22 million, this auction was the boldest and most successful event ever held by the company. An epiphany of incredible items from some of the most influential and famous figures from history, this Sale of the Century certainly lived up to its nickname and proved once again that Rock Island Auction Company is the undisputed leader of the industry. Despite the hardships 2020 has brought, it proved to be another record year for RIAC, who again broke their own industry record by reaching $91.7 million in annual sales, with one auction still remaining this year.
Rock Island Auction Company’s 2020 “Sale of the Century” was the largest firearms auction ever held.
Rock Island Auction Company frequently encounters rare pieces of history, but this auction was unlike anything seen before. Items owned by presidents, famed pioneers, and rock stars all found new collections to call home during the 3-day event. One never knows who or what will make an appearance at an event like this, but it is always sure to amaze.
Leading the auction was an incredible Colt Single Action Army revolver owned by the 26th president of the United States of America, Theodore Roosevelt. Ordered shortly before his 54thbirthday, this revolver is not only extremely beautiful but carries serious historical significance with it. It was said that after an attempted assassination on his life failed only four days prior to ordering this gun, Roosevelt never left home unarmed again. Featuring dazzling ivory carved steer head grips, intricate engravings, and a stunning silver finish, this revolver is an incredible testament and a fitting tribute to one of the most influential presidents in U.S. history. Estimated at $350,000-$550,000, Theodore Roosevelt’s revolver blew past this evaluation and sold for a whopping $1,466,250.
Granville Stuart might not be a name the litters the pages of a standard history textbook, but his efforts and actions in the early Montana Territory helped shape the American frontier, domestic cattle ranching, and the effectiveness of local authorities. Leader of the infamous vigilante group known as the “Stuart Stranglers,” Granville and his brother James led an incredible life in an era much different that the modern day. An avid firearms collector and enthusiast, Stuart amassed a beautiful collection of weapons that were not only physically alluring but also some of the best well-engineered pieces of technology at the time. His Winchester Model 1876 Express rifle, known as “The Boss Game Gun of All Creation,” sold for a remarkable $287,500, his Sharps Model 1874 Creedmoor No. 1 rifle sold for $51,750, and his Colt Model 1877 Thunderer revolver and cuffs sold for an incredible $48,875. Headlining the John Fox collection however, was the "One of One Thousand" Winchester Model 1873 lever action rifle that sold for an impressive $354,000. Beautifully engraved and in extremely fine condition, this beautiful rifle managed to survive the harsh conditions of the Montana Territory and waited for nearly 150 years to make its way to Rock Island Auction Company. Stuart is considered by many to be one of the most influential historians of the Montana Territory because of his meticulous and detailed notes taken throughout his life. It is no wonder that even his portrait by notable artist L.A. Huffman went at almost 10 times its estimated price, selling for $12,650.
Fans of Annie Oakley were delighted at the rare prospect of owning several items that personally belonged to the famed sharpshooter. Oakley is most famous for her incredible accuracy and firearms knowledge as well as for becoming an icon in an industry predominately occupied by men. Her stage acts were filmed for one of Thomas Edison’s earliest Kinetoscopes in 1894, she reportedly shot the cigarette out of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s hand, and essentially created the modern conception of a “cowgirl.” An icon of the 20th century and one of the most influential women to hold a gun, Oakley’s life story has gone on to inspire countless books, shows, and plays (most notably “Annie Get Your Gun”). It is no wonder the items from Oakley’s collection performed so highly during the December Premier Auction. Originally discovered at a local pawn shop, a beautiful Smith & Wesson .22/32 Hand Ejector revolver made its way to Rock Island Auction Company and sold for $54,625. A stunningly engraved Remington Model 12-B gallery special rifle belonging to the famed markswoman sold for $161,000. Headlining the items from Annie Oakley, of course, was her C.F. Ulrich Jr. engraved Marlin Model 1893 rifle. An absolute beauty, this item is masterfully engraved with highly detailed wildlife panel scenes on top of gorgeous scroll work. Gold inlaid and set into pristine American walnut, this rifle is a functioning work of art that sold for $460,000.
Elvis Presley is one of the most recognizable faces in all of pop culture. One would have better luck attempting to find life on another planet than encounter someone unfamiliar with the King of Rock and Roll. Presley, besides revolutionizing commercial pop music, was an admirer of firearms and personally collected dozens of them throughout his life. A prize of the December Premier Firearms Auction was the inclusion of Elvis’s TCB engraved Smith & Wesson Model 36 revolver. With his iconic “Taking Care of Business” in a flash logo, this revolver also comes with interesting documentation that connects it with Elvis at the International Hotel in Las Vegas where he famously shot a television set. Reflective of his incredible life, this revolver sold for an impressive $63,250, almost double its high estimate.
However, these figures mentioned were far from the most famous faces that made an appearance in the December Premier Auction. Items from the Tom Selleck Collection sold during the auction that consisted of a highly desirable custom built Detonics Scoremaster pistols that was made for the actor during his time on the hit show, Magnum P.I. that sold for $10,350, a Winchester First Model 1873 rifle serial number 88 sold for $37,375, and a beautiful Winchester Model 1892 16-inch barrel Trapper's Carbine sold for an incredible $69,000.
One never knows who or what might show up at a Premier Auction. However, these familiar faces and legendary names were not the only impressive items that sold during this 3-day extravaganza.
1911 pistols might not be the first image one conjures when asked to think of rare pieces of firearms technology, but their long and interesting history has led to some of the most valuable items available on the market.
For example, Singer 1911 pistols are extremely valuable because of how little were manufactured and how still fewer have survived to this day. Further adding to its uniqueness, these pistols were produced by a sewing machine manufacturer during World War II. Like many other companies, Singer was tasked with designing these pistols for the United States military during the 1940s and only around 500 are believed to have been made. This Singer, besides being an incredible piece of technology, is in impeccable quality retaining nearly 98% of its original high polish blue finish. With only a few minor handling marks on the grips and the metallic surfaces, this pistol is near mint and makes it no wonder the item sold for $373,750. A similar Singer came complete with a rare and highly desirable M1911 holster and sold for $92,000. Another popular and rare 1911 variant comes from North American Arms because of the limited number of pistols produced in total. While North American Arms was originally contracted to produce thousands 1911 pistols for the U.S. Ordinance Department during World War I, only approximately 100 sets were finished in total. Before the order could be filled, the war ended and the contract was canceled leaving behind scarce pieces of history that would grow exponentially in value over the coming decades. Extremely historic and incredibly rare, these pistols are high sought after by collectors. This serial number 1 North American Arms Co. Model 1911 pistol sold for $172,500 at auction for its long and interesting history.
Walther is synonymous with pistols, especially when discussing 20th century Germany. An icon of the German army, Walther pistols are highly desirable to this day because of their accuracy and materials. However, Walther experimented with firearms that extended far past pistols and, at one point, tried their hand at the prospect of a modern sniper rifle. The design for the Walther Model WA 2000 semi-automatic sniper rifle came after the disastrous hostage situation that unfolded during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich exposed the under preparedness of the West German police. In response, Walther was tasked with designing a sniper rifle that could resolve this problem. Ultimately deemed impractical because of its weight and cost, this sniper rifle is still an extremely rare and unique piece of history and technology. While West Germany no longer exits, this rifle and the story behind it are still being echoed to this day. In the end, the sniper rifle sold for $97,750, blowing past its high estimate of $75,000.
Colt Walker revolvers are some of the most sought after firearms known to collectors. Only 1,100 Walker pistols were ever produced and only handfuls are still known to exist. Frequently used by the Texas Rangers throughout the Mexican-American War, these revolvers are extremely difficult to obtain because of their aforementioned low production number and low survivability rate courtesy of their harsh occupational use. Walker revolvers are highly valuable also because of their historical significance as they were critical in establishing the relationship between Colt and the U.S. military that continues to this very day. The finest known B Company Walker revolver sold for an amazing $402,000. Colt Paterson revolvers are almost equally as appealing to collectors for near identical reasons. Paterson revolvers were the first ever repeating pistols patented by Samuel Colt and were extremely popular among soldiers who used them in the military. Paterson revolvers are valued very highly because of their historical significance and high quality (even after almost 150 years). The factory engraved silver banded Colt No. 5 Texas Paterson revolver sold at auction for $316,250.
While historical significance and rarity assuredly add to the value of a firearm, sometimes the worth of something lies in its beauty. Lavish items and extraordinarily designed weapons would almost be more appropriately displayed in a frame rather than on a gun rack. The depth of the details and intricacy found in just one small portion of a firearm can transform a seemingly ordinary piece of technology into a flourishing oasis of inspiration and beauty.
Tiffany & Co. is synonymous with jewelry as well as the lifestyle of the rich and the famous. That “little blue box” has become an international arbiter of taste and style, but did you know that Tiffany once designed some of the most beautiful and historic revolvers of the late-19th and early-20th centuries? One look at the Tiffany & Co. items found in the December Premier Auction quickly illuminates the artistic abilities of the silver smiths and designers of the brand that extends far beyond the realm of glass and stone work. Sprawling scroll work so detailed it could be mistaken as a photograph can be found on each of these tremendous pieces of art that defined the art nouveau movement. A Tiffany & Co. Smith & Wesson .38 Double Action revolver with a beautifully crafted handle sold for $97,750, almost double its high estimate, while a similar Tiffany & Co. Embellished Smith & Wesson .38 Double Action revolver sold for $97,750 as well. Both of these revolvers are stunning and retain a beautiful contrast between the bright and flawless barrels and cylinders against the matte and gorgeous handles. Leading the way for the Tiffany revolvers found in this sale was the exceptionally rare, iconic, deluxe Tiffany & Co. embellished Smith & Wesson .32 Single Action revolver that was exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A remarkable piece of art and firearms technology, this revolver is embellished from head to toe with intricate designs even making an amazing appearance on the sight of the revolver. The grips protrude with Rococo style floral blossom patterns and a fantastic depiction in relief of the three Muses from ancient Greek mythology. An incredible item, this revolver sold for a jaw-dropping $207,000.
Rock Island Auction Company prides itself on presenting the best of the best to our loyal customers and the items from Gastinne-Renette are certainly an example of this. Renette was one of the most influential gunmakers in history and personally designed weapons for Napoleon III as well as the Spanish Royal Family. Known for his exquisite engravings on the metal and carvings on the wood, his designs exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1855 and the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 have cemented his legacy in history as one of the greats. Sublimely detailed and profoundly inspirational, Renette’s designs immediately distinguish themselves from other items for the sheer beauty of their composition. An extraordinary cased pair of sculpted, relief chiseled, gold accented, and relief carved Gastinne-Renette exhibition percussion pistols from the French Industrial Exposition of 1844 sold for $345,000 and an elaborate pair of Gastinne-Renette percussion pistols with sculpted silver mounts and relief carved stocks from the Exposition Universelle of 1855 blew past its estimated value of $50,000-$70,000 and sold for $115,000.
An immensely significant Winchester Model 1866 carbine sold for $345,000 during the auction. Beautifully engraved and masterfully carved, this rifle is originally believed to belong to Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. It eventually found its way into the hands of Mexican President Porfirio Diaz where it served with him during the primordial days of the Republic of Mexico in the early 20th century. Significant because of its historical proximity to the leaders of the French intervention in Mexico and the later revolutions that would ensue, this rifle has belonged to multiple different leaders of the country. Besides this fascinating aspect, it is also an incredible piece of art. Detailed engravings by master engraver, L.D. Nimschke, populate the receiver of the rifle that not only accents the blued loading gate, but also, simultaneously, directs the imagination towards the individual who might have possessed it during grandiose scenes of political revolutions or romantic tales of power shifts. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the gun rests in the carved ivory should stock that depicts the Mexican eagle atop a cactus. An amazing piece of history and innovation, this rifle will not be forgotten soon here at Rock Island Auction Company.
Never before has Rock Island Auction Company held such an impressive and spectacular event.
Thank you to everyone who was able to make their way to Rock Island Auction Company’s last Premier Auction of 2020. Despite a global pandemic, this auction truly lived up to its name and delivered some incredible results and set a new world record of $22,414,305! This was the largest firearms auction EVER held.
Historic, rare, and beautiful firearms decorated the preview hall as festive sights of the holiday season greeted the loyal attendees entering through the doors. Of notable appearances was old Saint Nick, who traded in his reindeer for a much more powerful U.S. inspected, 1887 dated Colt Model 1883 Gatling gun (which sold for an impressive $103,500). Jolly suits of amour carried tinsel and brightly colored Christmas ornaments in their hands, ornate wreaths adorned the gun racks, and even Pat’s Place saw a little bit of snow on its roof the morning of the auction. With multicolored lights illuminating the interior, Rock Island Auction Company is proudly welcoming the yuletide season!
However, what really made this auction an incredible accomplishment was the presence of YOU, our loyal and excited customers and participants who managed to make this event something for the books. Rock Island Auction Company is truly blessed to have such an incredible group of people who are committed to protecting, respecting, and upholding our second amendment rights. Without you, we would have nothing. Thank you for your continued support.
Rock Island Auction Company will be hosting another exciting Premier Auction from April 15-18, 2021, and an incredible Sporting and Collector Auction from February 2-6, 2021. For more information on consignment, future auctions, or have any other questions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company today.
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